Social scientists from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute of the Rocky Mountain Research Station, and a research team from the University of Montana, are collaborating with the Forest Planning team on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The goal is to provide the Forest Plan Revision team with scientific understanding of how the public value ecosystem services provided by the Gila National Forest, as well as the drivers of change that are perceived as relevant to the continued flow of important ecosystem services (vulnerability). This research directly supports plan revision efforts with a data-driven understanding of the relationships the public has with the Gila National Forest based on the ecosystem services they think are most important, those of lesser importance and vulnerability to change.
To achieve these goals, the research team has been welcomed by the planning team to engage with stakeholders at public meetings during the week of June 12th in five locations (Quemado, Reserve, Silver City, Truth or Consequences, and Las Cruces). Alongside planning team activities, the research team provided the opportunity to stakeholders to provide input through a structured game-like activity whereby members of the public individually prioritize a representative group of forest ecosystem services, confront tradeoffs between those ecosystem services, and identify what they perceive to be the most relevant drivers of vulnerability (e. g., invasive species, uncharacteristic fire, forest management decisions). The structured and analytically robust approach will yield a nuanced understanding of the diverse relationships that the public has with the Gila National Forest. A limited number of typified viewpoints will highlight both the most and least important ecosystem services and the corresponding drivers of change that are influential in maintaining community relationships with the Forest.